For all the Dads and kids who are somewhere in between normality and abnormality like my Dad and I are…
Apparently, Father’s Day can be traced back about 4000 years. Yep, “Scholars…claim that the tradition of Father’s Day can be traced in the ruins of Babylon when…a young boy called Elmesu carved a Father’s Day message on a card made out of clay nearly 4,000 years ago. Elmesu wished his Babylonian father good health and a long life.” (History of Father’s Day, n.d. Retrieved from http://www.fathersdaycelebration.com/fathers-day-history.html).
Today is Father’s Day so I have followed this age-old tradition and paid tribute to my Dad for being a great parent, always being there for me, inspiring me…you get the picture. And so, do I. But my Dad doesn’t. He’s already forgotten about this morning and has absolutely no idea what happened. He was delighted when he opened his presents and shed a few tears at the card he received. Now, having told me I’m not needed (I have taken zero offence to this), he’s away to the cinema with my husband, Gary, and then they’re away to see Gary’s Dad. By the time they get home, Dad will have even less idea why he’s been made a fuss of all day. It’s sad but true.
This has been the case since 2006. I feel very cheated where my Dad is concerned. I feel like I’ve been robbed. I’ll be very honest now and say before Father’s Day 2005 I did still get Dad a card and a gift but it wasn’t wholeheartedly to celebrate what a great Dad he had been but more because it was Father’s Day and that’s what happened. Cruel? No, because I am not cruel or unappreciative or some little brat that has treated her Dad like shit, (although I can point you in the direction of three of those if you’re interested). It wasn’t to celebrate what a great Dad he was because he was never around me much after I got to the age of 5. My mum, my two sisters and I were in the UK whilst Dad was abroad working then when Mum and I did eventually join him he was working so many hours that we barely saw him anyway. Then I got sent away to boarding school when I was the ripe old age of 10 and in 1999 when Mum and Dad came back from Saudi Arabia I was of the age where I was completely pissed off with being sent away and told it was for my own good and my years of angry rebellion ensued.
It wasn’t until I was about 18 that I had stopped being angry long enough to begin building a normal, mature relationship with Dad that should have had a good foundation laid whilst I was growing up. We had a laugh and a joke together, worked together (he was my boss) and even had a cigarette together when we both smoked. It was lovely and we became very close. There was mutual respect developing and it felt like I had my Dad at last. Then life took over and I moved over 200 miles away when I was 20. I kept in regular touch with Mum and Dad although I spoke to Dad rarely because he still worked a lot. Too much in fact.
Then one day I got a phone call from Dad. He was crying. Actually, he was sobbing down the phone and I could barely understand what he was saying through his sniffles. This was unheard of you understand. The only emotional outbursts I had ever witnessed from my Dad were angry ones yet here he was breaking his heart over the phone to me because the cat had died. Our wee Topsy that we got in Saudi Arabia had died and Dad was absolutely gutted. We should have known back then that Dad wasn’t himself because it was just so out of character.
A few months later I was at work, away from my regular base shop, conducting a stock-take. My boss approached me and said I needed to phone my Mum so that’s exactly what I did, believing that it was something and nothing. But it was horrible news. Dad, aged 58, had been at his work and had collapsed whilst on duty. He worked in a nursing home so there was medical staff on hand but he had been taken to the hospital and it looked serious. He had suffered a burst aneurysm (that’s another blog) and was gravely ill. His blood pressure was so high that it should have blown his head clean off but by some ‘stroke’ (no pun intended) of luck, if you can call it luck, it didn’t. We were told to hope for the best and prepare for the worst and that if he did pull through there wouldn’t be much left of him anyway. The medical staff we encountered were fucking charming at times. Anyway, 10 months, various hospitals and institutions and a hell of a lot of fighting red tape later and we got Dad home confident that he wasn’t going to keel over at any moment. But he wasn’t Dad anymore.
It took him all his half-brain power to recognise my Mum and I and the dogs. Do you have any idea how much pain thunders through your body when you look into a loved one’s eyes and all you see staring back at you are empty, black, lifeless pupils? How hard it is to see a once physically strong man be unable to stand up properly, walk from one room to another or do something stupidly simple like carry a cup. It breaks your heart and it tears you apart inside. Sometimes he doesn’t know what day, month or year it is. He can tell you Caesar’s alleged last words but he can’t remember what he had for breakfast a few hours ago. He can tell you where he lived when he was younger and what his profession was but he can’t tell you what he would like to eat or drink without being given prompts or shown items to recognise and choose. Cheese and chocolate are the exceptions I have to admit. He always had a weakness for chocolate anyway and he loves cheese so much that he remembers it more than us sometimes.
It’s completely and utterly shit what happened to Dad and it didn’t need to happen either. The very profession that he dedicated 35 years to let him down badly and stole his and Mum’s retirement from them. Father’s Day today, and indeed every year for the past 11 years, has had a new meaning for me. I’ve had to let go of all the shitty times that I used to blame Dad for and forgiven all our fall outs and all the decisions that I don’t completely agree with. For the past 12 years since I was 21, I have helped Mum to look after Dad because we always vowed he would never go into a home. I remember a social worker in the early days who told us we couldn’t have him home because we couldn’t cope with him and his needs. So just imagine me sticking the V’s up to that social worker because we have done it without any help from anybody, and I mean anybody.
It has taken me a long time to get everything sorted out 100% in my head properly with Dad. Had he not had his brain haemorrhage I’m almost certain he would still be a bit of a stern, selfish bloke who didn’t give two hoots about anything (I have inherited a slice of that and honed it in recent years) and for most folk I’m sure that would be cause enough to walk away and leave him to it. Come to think of it a fair chunk of the family did that very thing when he took ill (thanks, fam), but for me, giving up my ‘imagined life’ to be a family carer was entirely my choice and I would not swap it for anything. Some people think, and spread the word around that I don’t have a job, that I work part-time. To you, I say swap jobs with me for six months and we’ll see what you say at the end of it.
You only get one Dad and even though Dad and I had so many differences I think I can say that he taught me all I needed to know. He was a brilliant nurse. I’ve never met a nurse that was as good as or better than him at his job. What little time we worked together he taught me how to do it. He taught me how to treat people in need, to have a bedside manner, be sympathetic, make sure that person you’re looking after has everything they need and more. He’s still my Dad but now he’s also so much more. He’s a wee old man who needs looking after, who needs reminding what day it is, where we live, what time it is, cups are for drinking out of not peeing in (said cups are no in the bin) and to use soap in the shower. And when tomorrow comes he won’t remember today and it will start all over again.
Life can be a totally shitty experience but sometimes small things happen, like Father’s Day, that remind you to live it how you want to live it. So, like Elmesu in Babylon 4000 years ago, I’d like to pay homage to my Dad and wish him good health and a long life. I hope you’ll do the same.